Senators introduce bill to reauthorize pipeline safety act

Nick Snow
OGJ Washington Editor

WASHINGTON, DC, Feb. 3 -- Two US senators introduced a bill on Feb. 3 to reauthorize the federal pipeline safety act and strengthen the US Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Administration’s authority to enforce its provisions through fiscal 2014. Oil and gas industry groups immediately applauded the move.

The measure’s provisions would expand civil penalties for violating pipeline regulations and add fines for obstructing regulators, expand excess flow valve requirements to include multifamily buildings and small commercial facilities, and require installation of automatic or remote-controlled shutoff valves on new transmission pipelines, according to the bill’s sponsors, Sens. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), chairman of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), who chairs the committee’s Surface Transportation Subcommittee.

They said it also would require the US Transportation secretary to establish time limits for pipeline operators to notify local and state government officials and emergency responders when a leak occurs, and to evaluate whether integrity management system requirements should be expanded beyond currently defined high consequence areas and to establish appropriate regulations.

The bill also would make pipeline information, inspections, and standards publicly available on PHMSA’s web site; authorize additional pipeline inspectors and pipeline safety support employees through a phased-in increase over 4 years; allow PHMSA to recover costs for oversight of major pipeline design and construction projects; and authorize the US Department of Transportation agency’s appropriations for fiscal years 2011 through 2014.

The American Petroleum Institute said the bill was a positive starting point for a discussion of pipeline safety. “Pipelines operate 365 days a year with a strong and improving record of safe, reliable transportation of the energy products needed to support the US economy,” said API Pipeline Director Peter Lidiak. “Continuous improvement in safety is an industry priority.”

Excavation damage
Lidiak said API also supports stronger state programs to prevent excavation damage, the leading cause of deaths and injuries from pipeline accidents. “We urge states, Congress, and DOT to strengthen one-call laws and their enforcement, and to remove exemptions from requirements to use one-call before digging,” he said.

Interstate Natural Gas Association of America Pres. Donald F. Santa said INGAA, which represents interstate gas pipelines, consider the bill “a constructive starting point” for reauthorizing the law. “It takes a reasoned and balanced approach to pipeline safety, acknowledging the need for strong aspirational goals, but respecting that regulators must apply technical expertise to develop and implement the specific guidelines that will be needed to achieve these goals,” he said.

INGAA also supports regulatory efforts to reduce development encroachment near pipelines and to improve public-private research and development programs to improve pipeline safety technologies, as well as enforcement of laws to prevent excavation damage and refinements of integrity management programs, Santa said.

The American Gas Association, whose members include gas utilities, also welcomed the bill’s introduction as a constructive first step. “The majority and minority staff of the [Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation] committee have worked cooperatively in attempting to address a number of key issues,” said Kyle Rogers, AGA’s vice-president of public affairs. “That sort of collaborative, reasoned process bodes well for getting a bill passed.”

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.



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